CALGARY, Alberta — Dougie Hamilton stood behind his team’s net, then sent the puck through the defensive zone as he attempted to start something for the Bruins. The pass went right to Shawn Matthias, who punished Hamilton thoroughly and immediately by beating Tuukka Rask to put Vancouver up, 2-0.
Hamilton certainly wasn’t the only culprit in Friday night’s loss to the Canucks. There were other plays by other defensemen that were just as damaging, including a pass by Dennis Seidenberg that also ended up in the Bruins’ net.
But Hamilton has made some other poor decisions of late, and has shown inconsistencies that have been exacerbated by the team’s troubling defensive play overall. Plays that should be simple have become difficult. Passes that should be crisp have become sloppy. That’s all the more frustrating because of the talent and potential that come wrapped in the guise of the 21-year-old.
“He’s shown some flashes of greatness because I think he’s definitely a guy that down the road will probably be an anchor of our defense, but at the same time I think there’s still room for growth defensively,” coach Claude Julien said. “That comes with maturity and experience as far as being in this league.
“You see he’s not afraid to stand up for himself or for his teammates, those are things that you didn’t see early on. He’s getting a lot more confident that way.”
That was on display in Tuesday’s loss to the Dallas Stars, when Hamilton nearly took on Alex Goligoski, who hit Patrice Bergeron in a way that Hamilton didn’t like. It was just one moment in a game in which both Hamilton’s foibles and his future were on display, everything from his offensive instincts on a goal to his defensive liabilities on a Jamie Benn score.
“I think defensively is where he needs most of his work,” Julien said. “He has to be at times a little tougher and more consistent. But those are not critiques of the player more than this is what he has to do in order to become better as a young defenseman, so we also have to be to a certain extent patient, and we also have to be willing to continue to work with him and help him improve.”
To that end, Julien has been spending a little more time with Hamilton, working with him in addition to the normal time assistant coach Doug Houda spends.
“Working with Dougie is important,” Julien said. “Sometimes it’s not always showing him video but talking to him about different aspects and approaches to games and certain things.
“Right now we talked about the start of his games, how can he get himself better to have a better start because I think once he gets going he’s good, but it takes him a while. So that’s not got anything to do with skill but more with preparation, that kind of stuff.”
It’s not just Hamilton, as Julien pointed out. These are issues many young players have.
Nor has he struggled alone. The defense as a whole has been far from what the Bruins need, especially in Friday’s game.
“Just sloppy hockey,” Hamilton said of the team’s play against the Canucks. “The D aren’t really working with the forwards, the forwards aren’t working with the D. We’re kind of two separate units, not working as a five-man unit. There’s a lot of gaps in the neutral zone. Everything. We don’t come up as a unit, don’t support each other in anything. Obviously, it makes it tougher. There’s guys on islands and it just makes the game a lot tougher.”
That’s certainly true for Hamilton at times. Julien has altered his defensive pairings starting on Tuesday against Dallas, putting Hamilton with Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg at times.
Hamilton knows that he has to improve his game, which in some respects has taken a step back from where it was when Chara was out of the lineup. Hamilton is still young, still immature, still in need of instruction.
But that’s what Julien is working on, why he’s spending that extra time with Hamilton, as he tries to mold him into the player he can be and the player the Bruins need.
“He’s got good offensive instincts,” Julien said. “He can read those well. As I said, we’ve just got to keep working with him with the other part of the game. If he improves in that area, he’s going to be a pretty good defenseman, one that teams would love to have as their anchor.”